First, a little look at me playing, live and at home.
Then you can decide if I’m actually good enough to be worthy of all you’re about to read.
Superstition clip – live
C Mixolydian jam
First, a little look at me playing, live and at home.
Then you can decide if I’m actually good enough to be worthy of all you’re about to read.
Superstition clip – live
C Mixolydian jam
I’ve just arrived in Alicante to try to make a living as a bass player. I’m travelling light. Everything I have can be carried in one go. This is my attempt on the Costa Blanca. From here, I have access to Benidorm, Torrevieja and Javea. And off the coast there are the party islands of Mallorca and Ibiza. I haven’t quit my job for this. That ended at the end of June as it was always going to. It may start again at some point in September but between now and then, my home of Madrid gets drowsy, then sleeps. Summer shut down and very little work. So I had to make another plan and this is it.
I have been a professional bass player before. That was in Ireland for about three years. I didn’t make a fortune but played in some fantastic bands and rent got paid. Since I left it behind, a story for another time, it’s been nagging at me. No, biting at me and it hasn’t let go. I’ve never let go either. I’ve tried in Madrid but all my experiences, and those I’ve heard of others, say loud and clear that being a professional musician here is not an option. Maybe I’ll get to some of those stories further down the line.
As heading for the tourist central that is the Costa Blanca is a fairly new idea, there’s been no time to save so all I have is my salary for the month and that isn’t much, especially as I’m continuing to pay rent on my apartment. If it all goes wrong I could be back within two weeks. I’m going out there with no safety net but it’s either do it this way and do it now or not at all.
I’ve been looking into this for a few weeks and there has been some talk with friends about where best to go. When I got talking to Per, a friend from Madrid who now lives in Alicante, he said I could stay at his for a week or so. That sealed the deal and I arrived tonight after a four and a half train journey without a book because I left it in Madrid. I completely emptied my suitcase on the train looking for it, not knowing if anyone was watching this mild act of craziness and not caring if they were.
I’ve also spent time hitting the phones calling bars and bands where possible, asking if they have a couple of minutes for me to bother them with questions and they’ve generally been cool. I also had a great with a lady called Sue who runs an entertainment agency in Javea. She was so amiable we ended up chatting about tennis. Tennis! I then sent an email with some Youtube links, like she asked, and she was kind enough to send that to a few of the acts she works with introducing me to them.
Then there are a few entertainers I’ve had some good Facebook communication with. The big thing that came from everyone in all of this was, ‘For anything to happen, you have to be here.’
Now I am and I’ve identified a jam session in Alicante for tomorrow at a bar called Frontera. Playing jam sessions is how I’m going to be seen and get known. In music world, you never know where any connection can lead.
Apart from all this, over the last few weeks I’ve been posting on various internet boards, including many Facebook groups. I’ve introduced myself and put up videos I’ve done, mostly recorded for scottsbasslessons.com. This is a quite amazing online bass academy run by Jedi bass master Scott Devine who is helped by the fantastic Geoff Chalmers. I’ve been a fully paid up student for about nine months. Yesterday, on the back of my Facebook posts, I got a message from a keyboard player called Christian who runs a jam session in Javea saying he liked what he’d seen, that I should come along to his session and that the area always had a need for good bass players. When I said I was going to be based in Alicante initially, he said his place might be a bit far but in the same message recommended Frontera which, as you know, was already on my radar.
So here we go.
On Per’s balcony minutes after arriving. Excuse the hair. It was windy. I got there just in time to still have enough light for the pic.
In the shed, Costa Blanca style
Thursday, July 10
I’m starting to write this at 5 in the morning so I’m really already into day two. Things happened today that feel like they happened yesterday. Well, they did but you know what I mean.
I get my bearings at Per’s place, having a wander around the beach front. He lives with his wonderful Filipino girlfriend, Weng who I also knew in Madrid, and their fairly large apartment is in part of a complex of buildings strung about a mile along the beach. Later, me and Per take a drive and find some bars in the nearest two small towns to his place – L’altet and Arenals Del Sol. We come to a two storey level of bars in the first place. I don’t actually know which town that is, but they’re all closed – it is two in the afternoon. I notice a venue at the top called The Meeting Point and say the name sounds promising. It also looks quite big. But as everything’s so obviously closed, Per drives on to the next place. They’re all closed there too but Per notices someone just closing a bar up, waits for him to walk by us and then asks if he knows any places nearby that has jam sessions. He said ‘excuse me,’ first. It’s not like he just blurted out a question as the guy walked past and hoped he’d heard.
The guy, who happens to be called Paul, stops and happily talks to us for about 10 minutes. The first thing he says is that The Meeting Point has a good one. Little nudge for me there. Then he mentions a place directly below us – we’re on the second floor of another whole mini complex of bars. That one’s called Molly Malones and he says they have jam sessions in there.
So into Molly’s we go. There we meet Kevin. He runs the kitchen in the morning – best English breakfast in the area he says – and also the Sunday jam session. When I say I’m a bass player, he says, ‘Ah, we have no bass.’ ‘Well I do,’ I say. So that could end up being my spot if I go. He also mentions The Meeting Point so we know we’re on the right lines now. He tells us that happens on Thursdays, so tonight then, and that it goes on quite late. Exactly how late he’s not sure. We’ll take our chances.
We already have the plan to go to Frontera so keep that, thinking we’ll hit The Meeting Point on the way back and see if it’s still going. Before we do, I have to make sure the session’s on and what time it starts so I call a number on Frontera’s website, speak to someone who says he’s the guitar player and confirms everything starts a little after 9pm.
It turns out Frontera’s a long way away in the car. I wouldn’t have walked it and buses round here are tricky. When we go in, I take advantage of a quick break between songs to introduce myself to the guitar player. He’s cool and says he’ll call me up and two songs later he does. I play one song I know – Unchain My Heart – and three I don’t, maybe four. They included Cocaine and You Shook Me All Night Long. There’s practically zero bass coming through the monitor so I have to really play hard to hear myself. I’m playing fast eighths and despite having pretty good bass stamina I soon start to feel it in my right arm due to how hard I’m having to play. But I warm up into it and am fine.
Anyway, after I finish, the guitarist, I’ll call him Fernando cos that’s his name, tells me to stick around and that he wants me up again. So I do. Per and Weng are happy to just watch the show although a few times, Per thinks he’s going to try to sing but each time he sits back down again, not feeling quite ready yet. I don’t know why. He’s a fantastic singer with a very powerful, operatic voice. But he’s been off the scene for a while so it’s understandable. Five or six songs later the show finishes and I’ve not been called up again. Mildly annoying. Fernando did call another bassist up who was very good but even during one of those songs, he turned to me and said, ‘I’ll get you up next.’ He does apologise at the end to be fair. Oh well. Onto the next place. But not before leaving my details with three members of the band and the pretty good bass player whose name, I learn, is Diego.
We arrive at The Meeting Point at 2:40am and it’s still very much going. Acoustic party time but there’s already a bass player there. We watch a song or two then I went up to the bassist and ask if I can play at some point. He says, ‘You can go now. I’m just leaving.’ I play with an assortment of people for well over half an hour and finally, with the session still going, decide it’s time to get off the stage and start introducing myself to some people. I ended up leaving details with three maybe four people there, including an excellent trumpet player who’s very insistent that I go back next Thursday.
I’ll see. Tomorrow I’m going to go to Benidorm. Not sure how I’m going to get back to Alicante.
Two jam sessions in one day
Arriving at Frontera for the first jam of the trip
At The Meeting Point later that same night.
Friday, July 11
Per fancies a trip to Benidorm and Weng also wants to come so we all load into the car and off we go. However, there’s one quick errand to run. I ordered ‘bass player’ business cards online and to Per’s address before I left Madrid. They’ve not arrived yet so we have to pick up a substitute batch I ordered locally yesterday. I can’t possibly leave without them. Then, next stop, Benidorm.
The first sight of the city is quite something. All skyscrapers of various party-like shapes lined up and hustled back along a spectacular beach. But getting closer, the facade fades away and many of the buildings that looked so glamorous from a distance come into view as rather tacky, grotty affairs. Not unlike Benidorm itself. Clearly Englishman on holiday territory – all topless, red beerbellies. But that’s why I’m here, right. I came for size of the audiences not the quality. It soon becomes very clear that the audiences are there.
I’m planning to head to a place called The Bodhran, an Irish bar run by people from Cork. I used to live in Cork and was a fairly well known writer for the city’s evening newspaper. So I figure that that if the owners are around I’ll have an easy way into conversation. That’s if I find it, but there are plenty of other places if I don’t. First, we go to the beach front, take some pictures and check out a bar there. Inside, a guitarist/singer and a lead singer are doing their thing to bass and drums on backing tracks. They’re decent but they wouldn’t worry any similar act I’ve seen in Ireland. However, they’re giving the holidaymakers what they want so job done. I learn later that this is their first of three sets of the day. That’s how you do it. Now, if only they can be prised away from those backing tracks…
Me and Per newly arrived in Benidorm
We stay for half an hour or so then the three of us pile back into the car and Per heads off in search of a parking space in the city. We drive all around until finally finding one. Right across the road from where we’ve ended up is The Bodhran. And no, I hadn’t told Per about it. Weng asks if I’ve got a place in mind to start with and if I know where it is. ‘It’s that bar right there,’ I say, pointing across the street and showing her the note I’d written to myself. This generates a chuckle and we have our first port of call so to speak. Lunch in there, which I pay for. Despite my limited budget, it’s the least I can do after everything they’ve done for me; apart from the drives, and company of course, so far I’ve joined them for every meal in their apartment and they’ve insisted I don’t put my hand in my pocket to help out for it. So I put my hand in my pocket here instead.
The owners of the bar aren’t there so we talk to the very friendly Scottish and Irish bar staff. They tell us we should check out the English Square and off that, Calle Gerona which is the main music strip. In particular, they mention a bar called The Western Saloon. ‘Bands there all night,’ they say.
It’s a long way down the street but we find The Western Saloon and discover that there are indeed bands there all night. From 9 till 2am. However, they’re all with backing tracks again. Apart from one, it seems. A fiddle player. The ad says the act also includes piano, guitar and vocals. Hmm. No bass player. This one could be interesting. It’s around 7pm by now and Per thinks it’s time he and Weng got off. ‘You seem to be in good hands here,’ he says. So they say their goodbyes, wish me good luck and leave and I’m happily left there with my bass, a backpack and nowhere to stay.
There are a few hours to go till the Benidorm Music scene comes to life so I decide to check the whole surrounding music area out a little more.
I’ve not been walking down Calle Gerona long when I get enthusiastically called over to an open fronted bar by some English lads who’ve obviously run out of water because all they’ve had to drink all day is beer. They ask me to get my guitar out and play for them. As bassists the world over have experienced, I have to explain that it’s an electric bass and needs amplification so no dice. However, they’re not taking that for an answer and ask if I can play the ‘F1 song’ – Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain with a hugely recognisable bass intro. If I can, they promise, all the money on the table is mine – it’s about €5. Forget the money. I’ll take it but I’m happy to play for this small and eager audience anyway. I get the bass out and, with my hardest plectrum for increased volume, hammer out The Chain with my own variations. Only one of them is close enough to the bass to be able to hear it but he turns to his mates and yells, ‘He played it! It was perfect.’ That’s enough for them. They let out a cheer and the money on the table is mine. Then they ask if I’d be able to accompany the music being played over the bar’s sound system. I say I can do that for a while if they want. They’re well up for it but unfortunately, the bar owners either don’t have the right equipment or just aren’t in the mood to share it. So that’s the end of that. One of them asks what I’m doing here and I tell him. ‘What? On your own?’ he asks. ‘Yep.’ ‘I absolutely love that story.’ Although he doesn’t use the word absolutely. A little more chat with the healthily hydrated lads and I’m on my way with ever so slightly heavier pockets. My first earnings in Benidorm. Yay. Still, it’s a shame I couldn’t have played more for them. Playing impromptu bass to random hits in an open bar to a bunch of English lads would have put me right in the shop window – quite literally.
I walk around a bit more and it becomes apparent that yes, there is a ton of live music here but I’m not seeing any evidence of actual full bands. No drummers setting up or carrying gear. No bass players like me walking the streets or getting out of cars or vans. It all looks ominously like it’s backing track city.
However, as I’m minding my own business, someone giving out flyers for a huge bar called The Marina comes up to me rather urgently. ‘Are you a musician looking for work?’ I tell him I am and that I’m a bass player. ‘Come back about nine and speak to the manager,’ he says. ‘He owns a load of bars including this one and he’s always looking for musicians.’ Well that doesn’t happen everyday. I go back about nine and the Marina, which includes a swimming pool as part of its attractions – told you it was big – also seems to be a starting point of sorts for boy bands as a One Direction tribute does their thing to, yes, you got there before me, backing tracks. I have to wait a while but the manager is eventually tracked down by the staff. ‘Do you have a card?’ he asks. I give him one. ‘And is there YouTube of you I can find?’ I point him to the part of the card that shows a simple search that can be done for that. He says thankyou very much, I’ll be in touch, and we’re done, but not before I ask about a place where musicians hang out after hours. The Heartbreak Bar he helpfully offers. On the beachfront. Cool. I’m sure I’ll be able to find it.
So now I’ve got that and my lead of the fiddle player and his band at The Western Saloon. The plan is to talk to him pretty much straight away before the set and see if I can either sit in with them tonight, which I’ll do for free as an audition of sorts, or make a plan to meet up with them sooner rather than later and see what we can do.
When I arrive, I’m waiting in a bottleneck of people around the door to get in when I get a tap on the shoulder. I turn round and a clearly drunk and easily excitable guy hits me in the face with a plastic wrapped rose. It’s playful and not hard but it’s enough to be annoying. Welcome to Benidorm. His mates immediately round on him demanding to know what the hell he’s doing while vociferously apologising to me. I laugh it off but tell them quite clearly that sooner or later he’s going to try it on the wrong person. Later, I see him in the toilets and he apologises too which I fully accept along with the handshakes and all that goes on in those kind of situations. Just a bit of harmless fun. No big deal. It’s holiday time afterall and we’re all mates.
Back in the bar, I continue to wait for the fiddle group and finally, he arrives. Yes. He. It turns out this is a one man act playing all the aforementioned instruments to backing tracks. I’m starting to get sick of those two words. I stick around for a while out of curiosity and there it is. Big, booming bass and drums coming out of the speakers while he does his thing(s) over them.
Along with disappointment, hunger’s also starting to chip away at the concentration so I decide to take a break and head off to a cheap and cheerful food place called The Yorkshire Bar which my friend Rick had highly recommended. He owns a bar in Madrid. He’s owned a few. And I once wrote and recorded an album with him for his pop/punk band Drunken Monkees. Many more stories there. The funny thing is, when he phoned to tell me about this place earlier, not only was I on the right street, but when I looked up as he said its name, there it was. It’s English. I should add that they’re all English food places unless you want to pay tourist trap prices for ‘genuine’ Spanish. The kitchen’s closed so I decide to have a pint, chill and head back out again, at the same time seeing if I can get any useful chat and/or pointers out of the bar girls. I can’t. I ask about hostels. They don’t know of any, saying it’s all hotels and apartments. Neither of them is going to happen. I ask about good, full live bands playing anywhere. They don’t know. I ask about a bar where musicians may hang out after hours, which they do in much the same way as hotel and hospitality staff. They don’t know. After all that, they take a few steps back and just talk among themselves.
I finish my drink and turn round to leave to find a whole band has appeared behind me. Electric drums, bass, the lot. The girls hadn’t told me about that. Thanks. It turns out the band plays there every night and they just leave all their gear there with a cover thrown over it so there’s no clue a band occupies that spot. They start and are really good – – blues. So I decide to stay where I am and just drink water. Bought from the bar of course. After about 20 minutes, the vocalist looks over at me, points to the bass and says:
‘Have you been playing tonight?’
‘Not yet’ (that’s me by the way)
‘So are you looking for work over here?’ (him)
‘That’s about the size of it’ (me)
‘Do you want to come up and do a few numbers with us?’ (you get the picture)
‘Come up now then’
‘Play another one and I’ll tune up‘
So I end up playing the last two songs of their set – a Gary Moore number and a different variation of Stormy Monday to what I’m familiar with but I manage it anyway. In the first song, they even stop and gave me a solo so I must be doing something right. They’re highly impressed and keep talking about me through their second set, with the vocalist eventually saying, ‘Oh, did anyone get Mark’s number?’ I tell him I have cards. After that I dance with the locals and then have a chat with the band at the end of the night giving each of them a card. I learn they are: Larry on guitar, Derek on bass, Phillip on drums and vocalist Wayne. Derek turns his mouth down when I tell him what I’m doing here. ‘You’re going to find it very hard,’ he says, his voice thick with sympathy. ‘It’s mostly backing tracks round here. There aren’t many full bands like us.’ I hold nothing against anyone because I was basically being a nuisance, but I do wonder why no-one thought to mention that little important fact to me when I was doing my phone research for all those weeks and telling them I was a bassist.
At the door of the bar, I have a few last words with Derek and Larry. We shake hands, part company and walk off in the same direction. Damn. Have you ever had that happen to you? What did you do? Laugh it off and stick with your friends to say goodbye again, or march off resolutely thinking, ‘I’ve said goodbye and that’s it,’? I go for number two and walk quickly, crossing the road as soon as I can and off to find The Heartbreak Bar. I do and it’s practically deserted although I haven’t been steered completely wrong. ‘Have you been playing tonight?’ the bargirl asks, looking at the bass when I order a drink. ‘No.’ She asks again, this time with a wink. ‘Oh, yes,’ I say this time. ‘Good,’ she replies. ‘Drinks are cheaper for you.’ And she pulls me a beer. I think I pay €2:50 for it. It’s the only one I have and I make it last for more than an hour while I scope the place out for any sign of musicians arriving from their night’s work. None come and 5am ticks round so I head off to find the bus stop which is on my tourist map so no problem.
I walk and walk and soon leave the city and its lights behind me. Eventually, I take a right turn at a small housing estate and all lights stop. I’m now on a small country road with walls either side of me which will soon turn into large fences. According to the map, which I can now see only by moonlight, it’s a short hop up here, another right someway up and I’ll see the bus station. Wrong. The road just keeps going and going and there’s not even any sign of civilisation. I don’t know how long ago I left the beach at this point but it was a long time ago. I should remind you here that I’m still of course carrying my bass and rucksack on my back. I’ve been walking round with them all day in proper Spanish sunshine – it’s what the tourists come for afterall – and my legs are starting to not like it very much. Some of the cramping I’ve been feeling at the top and front of my legs and hips and massaging and stretching away returns. This time it’s not co-operating with my efforts to reduce it so I just have to plod on and hope I can walk it off. Also, the heat of the day is still lingering and coming up in waves from the tarmac road. Dogs are now barking from behind tall chain fences and I think I’m lost. At this point feel free to imagine your own swears that start to happen.
Although I start to become convinced I miscounted the turns back there and must have taken a wrong one at some point, there’s nothing for it but to keep walking. There is absolutely no way. NO WAY. I am walking back there to check and find out. There’s nothing for it but keep going, trudging really, and hope I find something. What I do eventually find is the sound of a car coming up behind me. It’s the only evidence of one in over an hour. Almost without me realising, my thumb sticks itself out, more in watery hope than expectation. That’s right. The car sails past. But ten yards on, the guy has a change of heart and stops. I would say I run up to it but that would be a lie so I won’t. Gratefully, I tell him I’ve got lost and ask if he can take me to the bus station, or at least maybe tell me where it is. For a horrible moment I think he’s going to gesture behind us but he doesn’t. Instead, he says, ‘Yes. Get in. It’s not far.’ And so he’s proved right. I tell him I’ve got a map and am convinced it’s wrong. He nods knowingly and sympathetically. We only drive another hundred metres or so, probably less, before making a few turns and there, dimly lit, is the building I’ve been hunting all this time. I’ve been in the car less than two minutes. When I get back to Alicante, the first thing I do is look at Googlemaps and compare it to the tourist map. Now, I know it’s only a silly little glossy map but you’d think it would tell you where thing like the bus station were. But no. Instead, I now see that the road leading up to it rather peters out and it gives only the merest of indications where it could be; a big bus drawn rather randomly above where the short road ends according to the map. Googlemaps on the other hand shows this as a much longer road with the bus station off to the right after a few more turns at the end of it and this is the route I now recognise as what I walked. Check it out for yourself. I can now tell you that Via Pista is the lonely road I was walking down – yes that’s right. The tourist map didn’t give it a name. I may yet write a strongly worded letter to the Benidorm tourist board.
It’s now about 6:30am and the station is starting to wake up. I check the boards and see there’s a bus to Alicante at 7:30am. So that’s the plan. It’s about now that the leg muscles really start to give in. I think the two of them made a pact to get me this far and then go on strike. Just standing up and walking across the hall to get a coke from the vending machine is a real struggle. I just about manage to limp back to my chair where the waiting resumes. And there’s a bus to walk to yet. About 8:30 I call Per who’s wide awake thankfully, and he meets me at 9 when I get to Alicante. We get back to his and I finally make it to bed at 10am.
Conclusions on Benidorm? As a city for the working musician/vocalist, I’ve never seen a busier, more accessible scene. For the working bass player/drummer, it looks like a no no. I did consider just staying out all night and having a red bull aided session today but with the heat and all the sweating and stuff I would have been in no presentable state at all and certainly not the freshest. Also, I’m not sure how much I could have continued walking around with all that weight especially given the state my protesting legs were in by the time they ended their little odyssey. Carrying the bass and other assorted bits never feels that much when skipping out to a rehearsal or gig. It turns out that doing it all day is a whole nother story.
First sight of Benidorm
The band in the Yorkshire Bar. Wayne, the vocalist, sat out this one letting Larry do the honours
These are some of the lads who paid me for playing the ‘Formula 1’ song. There were a couple more. I think they were shy.
Saturday, July 12
After the Benidorm adventure I’m not expecting much from today and that’s how it turns out which is absolutely fine. I think the most notable thing that happens is that, after yesterdays adventures and getting to bed at 10am, I’m up at one. Barely a nap before starting again.
I just start formulating a few ideas and do a two and a half hour plus yoga session to try to clear the stiffness from yesterday – it’s still there but much better after that. Then, about 9pm I head out to The Meeting Point again, thinking I might meet a few people and just chat and hang out.
This time I’m going to walk it. There are two possibilities. Straight down the beach or along the roads which are starting to become familiar now. I go for the roads, following Per’s simple instructions which are faultless. It’s about four kilometres away but there’s no extra weight this time.
I get there and it turns out the entertainment tonight is a flamenco band playing to their family and friends. I’m afraid flamenco just doesn’t work for me. After half an hour or so, it’s stay there and spend money while listening to music I don’t like or head off back down the beach to a new single malt (Per’s) and American Hustle. I put it to the vote and the second option just shades it one to zero.
So after the briefest of stops at the bar, I leave and walk all the way back, this time taking the beach route letting the Mediterranean nibble my toes although now and then it does take liberties. I think walking that far on the sand, aided by the earlier yoga session, helps shake a little more of yesterday out too.
That’s it for day three.
Per and Weng’s complex of apartments on the beach
Sunday, July 13
The second I sit down to write this, before I type a word, the doorbell goes. It’s the cards I ordered last week from Madrid. I was beginning to think they weren’t going to come before I went to Javea. Oh yeah. I’m going to Javea today.
The day started when I was semi woken up by a notification on my phone. It was from Christian in Javea. You don’t know him. Neither do I. He got in touch a week or so ago telling me about a jam session he runs there. He said he’d seen my bass videos on Facebook and really liked them and said good bass players were in short supply there. When he saw I was in Alicante, he added that his place was a bit far but maybe another time. Then, when I told him about my experience in Benidorm, I get the message I’m reading now. He tells me that there are just three full bands he’s aware of there and they basically played in just two venues, one of them being the Heartbreak Bar which you may remember. He actually named the bands so he clearly knows what he’s talking about. He adds that some friends of his, The Brink Band, run a jam night on Mondays in Moraira which is about 20 kilometres south of Javea. He mentions that the drummer Enrico is a friend of his who he plays with in two other bands and adds that he’s a really cool and approachable guy. That’s pretty handy because cool and approachable is just what I need right now. What we all need all the time come to think of it. The place is Cafe Del Mar so that’s my next destination.
Yesterday I talked about the lack of what I found in Benidorm. In this same message, Christian tells me that, more than any other place on the Costa Blanca, Benidorm has a problem with noise so bands all have to play through a limiter. I think this is a device that turns the electric off if the sound goes above a certain level. Alright, no-one was obliged to help in the slightest when I was phoning up researching the possibilities of all this a while ago but as I said in Day 2, you would have thought someone would have mentioned something like that to me. Well, now someone has. Thanks Christian. It also means I wasn’t imagining it or that I caught Benidorm on a bad day.
Further to his first message, he then follows up with full details of how to get to Moraira. Very cool. Problem is, they’re all car directions. I get back to him and say I don’t have a car but that I’ve checked the buses. I’m fully expecting him at that point to say something like, ‘Don’t be crazy. If you can’t drive you can’t survive’ I just thought of that. Pretty good, no? He doesn’t, instead saying I’ll get around just fine which is a relief. He does another message saying that he isn’t sure how I’ll get back to Alicante. I tell him I’m not really thinking about that. Nice thought from him though.
Later, as planned it’s the jam session at Moby Dicks in L’altet near Per’s. All three of us go again – Me, Per and Weng. You may have realised that this is the day of the World Cup final. We watch the game at Per’s before leaving, but once it heads into extra time, we have to get going. We arrive, find a parking space and start walking to the venue. On the way we hear a big cheer. This is Germany scoring the winning goal. By the time we’re actually there, it’s all over. I’m a big football fan and have watched just about every game it was possible to watch in this tournament and now I’ve missed the end. Oh well.
Back to the music. Per, who’s a really good singer as I’ve said ,and who’s had adventures all of his own, has brought his harmonicas along but again ends up just deciding to watch. It turns out watching isn’t anywhere on my agenda at all. The jam starts with two acoustic guitar players – Kevin and Jose. They have no bass player so when they call me up and I plug myself into the desk and turned the fader up, that’s me sorted for the night. Not only that, but because I’m now part of the band, anytime I want a drink I just have to nod to the singer who calls up to the bar and one arrives. Handy.
I instantly catch onto the first song. I don’t remember what it is but as soon as I kick into the groove and the first cycle of chord changes, the two guys just look up at each other and smile. Then we’re away. A few songs I know, most I don’t, but it’s really cool to just sit back and follow along with them, keeping it pretty basic the whole time. I’m aided in that when a cajon player gets up, Richard from Holland I find out later. The proud young lad in front of me makes sure I know that’s his dad too so a nice moment there. After that, I have a beat to hold on to and the two of us just keep it locked.
And that’s how we stay the whole night until we make way for some locals to come up and claim the stage for themselves. I’ve played enough by that point and they’re also playing a lot of songs with changes all over the place so I leave them to it and go off to be sociable for a while.
Getting started at Molly Malone’s with Kevin and Jose.
Monday, July 14
It all starts easily enough with an uneventful journey from Alicante to Moraira. This is where, you may remember, I was strongly advised to be by Christian. The Monday night thing is a jam hosted by his friends’ band, The Brink, at a place called Cafe Del Mar. Oh, hang on. Did I say uneventful? Almost. From Alicante, I have to change buses in a place called Calpe from where I’m to catch a regular commuter bus to Moraira. The stop’s nowhere to be seen at the bus station so I wait to ask the girl at the desk. There’s a queue of ten people. I counted. If I’d known then what I later discovered, I would have been in a mild state of panic. Actually, I probably would have politely gone to the head of the queue and asked where the bus stop was. Instead I sit back and patiently and Englishly wait while the people at the front take about ten minutes. You know the scene. Anyway, they finally finish and the queue moves very quickly. Until the last person who takes another five minutes. Eventually I’m able to ask and I’m sent off in a direction I never would have imagined so good job I’ve not gone off exploring on my own like I was so tempted to do. When I get to the bus stop I see that the bus to Moraira only comes every two hours and the last one is due in two minutes. Yep. One more person in the queue or one more misunderstood enquiry and I would have been stranded in Calpe.
Well, I get to Moraira and set off to find an internet place and print a map for Calle del Mar which is where Cafe Del Mar is. At least, that’s what the good ol internet said. The first mishap. When I find the place, it turns out it’s actually Restaurante del Mar. The guy taking bookings – English – tells me that Cafe Del Mar is about two miles away. With everything I’m carrying there’s no way I’m walking that far and anyway, time’s ticking, so I call a taxi. When he comes he absolutely refuses to let me take the bass in the car with me which I have ALWAYS done with no problem. Any other time I would have told him to do one and got another taxi. But as I said, the jam’s starting soon and I still have to make introductions before then. In other words, I have no option but to take his car and pay the €6.40 and not a cent more.
Anyway, I get to the place and man it’s fancy fancy. The venue’s also huge with a balcony above the stage which will be full of dancers later on. In short, it’s the kind of place where, if it was in Madrid, a beer would be at least €6. Here, a very surprising €3.50 which is handy. I order that, slightly fearful for my wallet, after about 20 minutes of sitting there drinkless – practically unheard of – when the head waitress comes up to me and asks if I want anything. Her demeanour being that if I don’t I’ll be very politely asked to leave.
Enrico, my drummer contact, isn’t there but I quickly introduce myself to the bass player, Tommy, a Geordie (from Newcastle my non English readers. A far northern English city with a very strong and quite individual accent.) He’s hugely friendly and, as I soon see, a seriously good and fun-time bassist. A laugh and smile is never far away. Now, I often find this kind of thing a little off-putting and false, but with him, it’s all completely genuine and he’s a joy to talk to and very knowledgeable on the subjects of bass and bass players. We have quite the chat about Tal Wilkenfeld, Jeff Beck’s low ender of choice. He also makes it his business to come and hang out with me whenever he’s off the stage and during the break the band has.
After that brief introduction, I go out to grab the sandwich I have with me. I’ve still not had that stand-off with the waitress yet and there’s no way I’m going to expose myself to whatever food prices I think they’re asking. Anyway, five minutes later I head back in. Immediately a guy says to me, ‘Oh, Mark. Janet’s looking for you.’ What?! I’ve been here five minutes and a guy I don’t know says someone else I don’t know is looking for me. It turns out Janet is the keyboard player of the band and organises the list of people to play. She gives me two sheets of songs and asks me to pick two. I feel like I’m ordering dinner. I’ve played quite a lot of them before but can’t remember them off hand right now so stay away. In the end I settle on Rock Around The Clock and a 12 bar blues I’ve never heard of and can’t remember now. Tommy finds this hilarious when I tell him. As it turns out, I don’t play either of them.
So I settle back and the jam starts. It’s the best organised session I’ve ever seen and also the highest quality of guests. In the break, Enrico comes to talk to me and it’s like that scene in Titanic where Jack is being told who everyone is at the dinner. It’s like, ‘that guy over there is a great guitarist who does this, that guy is a fantastic, very well known sax player who does that,’ all round the room. Basically it’s full of working musicians on the Costa Blanca scene. If one of them just happens to need a bass player or know someone who does, I’m in the right place and they are going to see me play. Enrico also tells me about a band he was in recently who were playing up to 25 shows a month. I do the sums a little later and my very conservative estimate of what those shows are worth per band member adds up to a very liveable wage.
I get called up right near the end and, despite the carefully organised list, we’re to accompany the guest guitarist/singer who just happens to be up. A shuffle in G is the first one and I settle right into it, following rhythm clues from Enrico including stops and turnaround patterns. When I catch them the first few times, the whole band look round and smile at each other. I also get an approving nod and turn of the mouth from Janet over on the other side of the stage. Before long, I start seeing the occasional thumbs up from members of the crowd too. The place is packed and it’s a big crowd. I don’t know how long we’ve been playing that song when I get called out for a solo. They obviously feel confident I can handle it by that stage. So into it I launch. Twelve bars. I reached the end of the first pass and it’s clear the band isn’t ready to come in yet. Bloody hell. Another 12 bars. I’d been a little cautious but now I turn up the heat, turn up the speed and head right up the neck and all around it, finishing with a fast pattern which lands perfectly back onto the G and back into the rhythm. The applause and cheers when I finish and the band finally come back in on that G with me is immense. Then it’s onto the second number. I can’t tell you what it is but it calls for a real simple, slow, mostly root notes pattern. I find the rhythm and after a while see that a few people are actually dancing to my bassline which means I had to stay right on it and not go anywhere. I allow myself one short lick which comes off really smooth and hits the pattern again perfectly with the dancers still moving to it so I’ve got that right. When we all finish and Janet calls out my name, I get the biggest cheer and applause I’ve ever had at any jam session. Then when I go back out into the crowd I feel nicely surrounded as so many of them immediately come up to me, some asking if I have a card which I do. At one point, three people are waiting to shake my hand. As I said, all I need is one of this mass of people to need a bass player or to know someone who does. But no luck. At one point, a guy does ask if I’m in a band and I think, ‘Here we go,’ but he’s just making conversation. Balls. However, Tommy’s quick to come and talk to me and say that if he ever needs cover, especially around Christmas time, I’m now high on his list of people to call. So that’s something.
Next comes the tricky part. I have nowhere to stay.
Getting ready to jam at Cafe Del Mar. Tommy took this. Check the crowd in the reflection of the window behind me.
It’s time to alert the band to my lack of accommodation and hope I can crash at one of theirs for the night and then see how the next day goes. First, I mention the situation to Tommy who says, ‘rather you than me.’ I decided to not embarrass either of us by asking. Then it turns out Enrico lives with his parents in Benidorm. That leaves Janet and Billy. I haven’t mentioned Billy have I? Fantastic guitar player and singer and Janet’s partner. His surname is Brink, hence The Brink Band. Well, I speak to them and no dice there either. Holding no hard feelings – how can I? – I help them carry all the gear to their van and all they can offer is a lift to town and their best wishes. Although Janet does give me a bottle of wine as I leave the car. It’s a nice gesture but all I think is, ‘Great. I’m now in a strange town with no home and a bottle of wine. Wino Mark.’ They drop me off at the main square right on the sea where a band happen to be playing. When they say their name, Seguridad Social, I later discover they’re a famous Spanish band from Valencia with 15 albums to their name. So they’re really quite good. But I don’t have time for that right now. Instead, I leave them behind and go hostel hunting but don’t find anything and no-one I ask knows of one. I will find out the next day that there is one but it’s quite far out of the town so subsequently, I’m not sorry I abandoned that search and decided to go and watch the band. It gave me something to do.
They play until 4am, at least three hours. And more because they were already on and clearly warmed up when I arrived. Bruce Springsteen territory. When they finally finish and the crowd disperses, I have to decide what to do next. Well, I’m sat on a wall on the sea front. Beyond it is rocks leading about 15 metres down to the sea. Behind the wall and attached to it is rows of benches. By now I’m proper tired so just being able to lie down is very appealing. And being behind the wall does the situation sufficient privacy. No, I don’t open the wine. I couldn’t have if even if I wanted to. It’s time to go to bed. Well, to bench anyway.
I’m in a nice town and the only people around are the roadies taking the stage down, but I still wrap one of the straps of the bass case round my wrist. My backpack acts as a pillow and for the first time I’m glad I’ve brought a jacket which I’ve been carrying the whole time rather than wearing; it wouldn’t fit in the backpack. I’m really not sure if any sleep happens at all. I do know slight bruising to the hip does. What doesn’t help is that the weather suddenly changes. Not drastically, but the wind comes up and a slight chill starts to bite the air. Enough to make things not as comfortable as they might have been. However, I may also just be a little overtired and it’s possible sleep will still be difficult if I somehow get instantly teleported home. I’ll you what though, it’s a weird feeling being in a town with nowhere to stay and contemplating what you’re going to do about it. On my brief hostel search, which I suspected from the start would be futile, I’d experienced pangs of jealousy seeing people hanging out on their balconies, the security of a warm bed somewhere behind them. I have slept outside before. That’s fine. But there’s one thing not wanting any dinner, quite another to be told you can’t have any even if you don’t feel hungry. That’s exactly what this is like. And I still have another town to get to.
With that in mind, I allow 6am to slowly decide to roll by and decide it’s check-out time. Maybe the transport round here starts early and I can get myself on moving to Javea sooner rather than later. So I stand up in the pale, emerging sunlight and hoist the bass onto my back, hearing the first twitter of birds. I do love that all-night-out feeing when you first hear the birds waking up, or whatever it is they’re doing at that time. Oh dear. It’s at this point I discover my shoulders are all sunburned and the straps rub into it horribly. And I still have the backpack to take. There’s no other way I’m getting out of here so I’m just going to have to put up with it.
Tuesday, July 15
The workmen are still taking the stage down. Yes, still, so I decide to chance my arm and see if they’re going that way once they finished. They aren’t. Oh well. It was worth a try. The next obvious step is to find a bus stop. There isn’t anyone around to ask but as I start to walk, I start to recognise a few things so I just keep going in the confidence I’ll come to a bus stop. Before long, I hit the main road and see twin shelters across the road from each other. That has to be it. I head down there and yes. Those are the two stops. One coming in, one going out. I rush to check the timetable. First bus. 9:20. It’s barely 6:20. There’s another thing. This stop doesn’t go to Javea, only Calpe. That place is no good for me. Time to find somewhere else. I head back into the town and start to wander round. It’s not that big and I start to get my bearings pretty quickly, recognising buildings from when I arrived and from when I was looking for a hostel a few hours ago. I see a couple of girls obviously still out from last night’s party and taking it easy now. I ask them where I can get a bus from here to Javea, and all they can say is, ‘Taxi.’ I’m like, ‘No. I can get a bus to Calpe and from there to Javea at least, right?’ ‘Taxi,’ they say again. ‘Well, what if I get myself to Calpe?’ They shake their heads. ‘Taxi.’ I wonder if they haven’t got little pull strings on their back and what they’ll say if I pull them again. Probably ‘Taxi.’ I think these must be the demonstration models. Whatever, I’m starting to not like these apples very much. I think they’re wrong and if I take the bus to Calpe, I’ll get one to Javea from there. The thing is, apart from the next bus not leaving for another three hours, once I get to Calpe, I could be facing another two hour wait there, or more – assuming I’m right and the girls who actually live in the area are wrong. I’m also hoping and suspecting they’re wrong about the no direct bus thing. I walk round a little more, speak to a few more people and it turns out that indeed the girls were right about one thing. There is no bus to Javea. One thing I’m discovering very quickly is that this is not Gran Via, Madrid where buses arrive and leave as frequently as planes at Heathrow airport. There, it’s no big deal to take two buses and even a metro. If the announcement board says there’s more than a five minute wait that can sometimes be enough to produce an internal mini meltdown. It seems that taking three buses where I am now could well require a whole working day of waiting if your luck’s out.
‘Forward planning?’ I hear you say now. Fair enough and I know what they say about assumption. But I’m in a situation where one town doesn’t have a direct bus to a major town less than 20 kilometres away. That would never have factored into my mind as something that could have gone wrong. But it has and the situation is what it is.
Which is this. Option one. Wait three hours, go to Calpe and take my chances; if I do have to get a taxi from there, I’ll be further away from Javea than I am now. Option 2. Take a taxi. On my budget? Screw that. I’ll get there myself one way or another. But first, to make sure I’m moving in the right direction, I walk to a taxi rank, tell one of the drivers I just have a question rather than get his hopes of a fare up, and ask him to confirm the direction of Javea. He points down towards the bus stops which I thought he would. I thank him and I’m on my way. No. I’m not going to walk it. It’s time to do something I haven’t done since I was in my early 20s. I’m going to hitch hike.
I set myself up at what I think is a convenient place about a hundred metres or so beyond the bus stops and stick my thumb out. At first it’s a little embarrassing but I soon stop worrying about it. After about 20 minutes an old, beat up saloon pulls up. First, I thank the guy just for stopping as he could be going anywhere, and then tell him where I’m heading. He says he isn’t going there but could drop me off halfway. Great. At least I’ll be closer to Javea than I am now. So I get in and we roll off. Or rather veer off. It quickly becomes apparent that he’s blind drunk. At not even seven in the morning. He attempts to talk to me but when I don’t understand his Spanish, he tries switching to English. If anything that’s even worse. We manage the slightest of small talk with him insisting on speaking English and me speaking Spanish because he doesn’t understand my English, but then we both settle back in the knowledge that we’ve never seen each other before and, five minutes down the road, never will again. I’m happy for him to just put all his concentration on the road because a few times we meander into the wrong lane, one time just as a hill’s coming up. I actually start to feel quite happy that he isn’t going all the way to Javea. The less time I spend in this car the better.
After I get out of the car and thank the guy, I take a look at where I am. Main road. Good. Carpark next to me. Good. Pedestrian crossing in front. All good. Surely this won’t take too long. It’s 7:20am. Now, to write this next part down seems very simple and easy. Doing it wasn’t.
An hour later I’m still there and the sun has proper come out and there’s no sign of any shade. Some drivers look at me and point in front of them, some gesture to the side. What the hell that means I have no idea and each time it happens again, I want to scream, ‘What the hell are you saying?’ By 8:20 I’ve had enough. I’ve been there an hour and nothing and the sun is starting to make things a little uncomfortable. Screw it. OK. I’ll get the next taxi that comes. Three come and even they won’t stop either. What the hell’s going on? By now some workmen have appeared nearby so I ask them where the nearest taxi rank is. They confidently point into the village, give a few directions and I decide to cut my losses and head in there. About a hundred yards up and round the first corner I come to a bus stop. Bloody hell. The thing had been there all the time. And it goes to Javea. The next bus? 11:35. More than three hours away. The one before that? 8:05. Less than 20 minutes ago. I could have been there by now. Balls, balls and balls. Onto the taxi rank. I don’t know how long I wander round but no sign of any taxis and no sign of any people. The bass and the backpack are really enjoying themselves now getting stuck right into the sunburn and my legs are starting to go a bit too. Right up at the front of the hips, the same place I started to get into trouble in Benidorm. I’m able to massage a lot of it away but it still persists. Eventually, I find a crossroads in this village whose name I still don’t know. I think it might actually be called Tiny Village. I set myself up at a good point where I can see and stop traffic from all angles and wait. Around half an hour later I think I’ve seen 10 cars. Not one of them a taxi. It’s time to get away from this place too. I head back into the streets and ask a lady where I could go to find one and she doesn’t know. I then take the opportunity of telling her about all the gesturing from the drivers and ask what it could have all been about. She’s as clueless as I am so that mystery will remain unsolved. Next, I see a guy just hanging out on a bench, enjoying the same sun that is so harassing me. I ask him where I can get a taxi. He says he has no idea and that my best bet is to go to the local police station and ask there for a phone number to call. He also says he has nothing better to do so walks with me. We meet a policeman no problem and he gives me a number. I called and have a taxi. In half an hour. What is it with all this bloody waiting? ‘Where’s he coming from? Benidorm?’ the man asks me, sounding almost as exasperated as I am. I just shrug. I take the opportunity there to ask the policeman if hitchhiking is illegal and he says it is. I tell him that’s how I got here and he just smiles. Still, I don’t think that really explains why no-one stopped for an hour. As for my new friend, he feels like hanging round and chatting so that’s what we do, while I came very close to bailing on the taxi and seeing if I can get one somewhere else. Half an hour? Please. But senses take hold. I’ve waited that long and much more already and nothing has come along so I decided to stay and cut my losses.
Finally, finally, finally I’m on my way to Javea. The guy asks where in Javea I want to go. I don’t know but he suggests the puebla. I figure that’s where the cheaper hostels will be – I will be emphatically proved right – so that’s where we go. I get out of the car, pay him and have a quick look round. The first shop I see is called D-Sastre. Desastre is Spanish for disaster. ‘Right,’ I think. ‘That’s about the size of it.’ It’s now sometime after 10am. It’s taken me about four hours to travel less than 20 kilometres.
Lost in Tiny Village. Probably not its real name.
When signs go bad
I’ve been awake about 24 hours now. It’s time to find a hostel. Bass and bag hoisted up again, I set off around the low lying, old style Spanish streets, into a shop and ask. ‘Oh yes,’ comes the breezy reply. ‘About two hundred metres up the street and turn left.’ ‘Two hundred?’ Did my voice just crack? Not happy. Here I am thinking I’ve just arrived and it feels like another mission is coming on. ‘No. It’s really only a hundred,’ she says. ‘Not far.’ So I head off in the direction she’s sent me and after about five minutes have found nothing so I head back into the village again and find another woman who sends me in the same direction. Up I go and still nothing so back again. A guy. On the street this time. ‘Oh yes, no problem,’ he says gesturing up where I’ve just come from. ‘Up there, turn right and you’ll see it at the end of the street behind the buildings up there.’ Slightly more detailed instructions but essentially the same place I’ve just come but this time I have to go behind stuff. It’s possible I’m shuffling by this point. I’m certainly sweating enough to leave a trail that may still be there. Now it just feels aimless. All three people were so blase about where this thing was and how easy it was to find I saw no reason to doubt them. Now I’m feeling frankly silly and am starting to walk/shuffle round the backs of random buildings thinking maybe that’s what they meant. No. Eventually I find myself in a car park with no sign of anything remotely commercial about. I’m too tired to even make swears.
It’s at this point that two women come walking down the road carrying yoga mats. Because they look English, I say to them, in my perfect English: ‘Are you English,’ ‘Yes we are.’ And so I meet Pat and Janet. Pat is from Hartlepool and Janet is from London and they’re both perfectly chatty. They um and ah between them for a while before telling me to come with them. OK. We walk probably no more than 50 yards before arriving at what I will soon know as the community centre of the Javea International Baptist Church. The second I walk in air conditioning hits me in what can only be described as a blast of ecstasy. There’s at least five other women there when we arrive and they all welcome me warmly. I think we’re there to get quick directions and I’ll be on my way. Instead, Pat, or Janet, sorry girls I can’t remember which one, says, ‘Have you had a cup of tea yet?’ A cup of what now? Then there’s cake. The best cup of tea and piece of cake I’ve ever had by the way. I have truly been delivered. I can’t really claim to have the thousand yard stare when I sit down and finally find some relaxation, but what I do have is at least a distant second cousin to it. I just shimmer in the glow of air conditioning, tea, cake and the load having been taken off while the women bustle around me and I hear them say, ‘We’re off to our Pilates class. You’ll still be here when we get back?’ I can stay? Fantastic. This truly is a reprieve. By now I seem to have the eyes of about ten women on me – they just keep coming – and one or two are asking about the big guitar case and where I’m going and where I’ve come from. So I tell them it in patches until I finally get talking to Hilary and she gets the full story including this diary on Scott’s Bass Lessons and the very positive reaction it’s been getting. I really have to explain the diary to them because it’s about here that I start to insist that pictures are taken to accompany this piece of writing right now. A few ask me to play something on the bass for them but of course, I have to make the usual explanation that it’s electric and no sound and all that. So I just slap it for a few seconds which seems to adequately impress them.
Then the ladies are all gone to Pilates and I’m left with Ruth, who looks after the place, or at least is doing so today, and who insists on me having another cup of tea. It’s about now, while she’s busy in the kitchen, that I decide to take the opportunity to do my shedding for the day. I’m going to do the bare minimum of 20 minutes just to get something done. And no real thinking either. Just the shapes of Dorian and the minor chord, playing it in a few different keys. I can’t remember the last day I didn’t go to the shed at least once and I’m not letting that slip now. How much of it I take in, how much good it does, I have no idea. I can’t even hear it but get it done.
During this time, a few other ladies wander in, get chatting to me and twice I have offers of a lift to a hostel. I very politely refuse both simply because I’ve told Pat and Janet I’ll still be here when they finish. I know they won’t be heartbroken if I’m gone when they arrive but even so. During this time, a lady called Sue is kind enough to draw me a map to a hostel. Not only that but she walks me to it so I know the way. Oh the feeling of walking freely without all that weight. Then we go back to the centre, the Pilates class finishes and everyone piles back in. ‘Oh, you stayed,’ says Pat as she walks in. They seem genuinely happy I’m still there. Now I have my third offer. It’s from Hilary as we’re having another cup of tea while cake is brought out again – I’m too slow so miss out on that. Damn. Not only does she offer to drive me to the hostel where I can check in and drop my stuff but she also says she’ll give me a drive around the town and down to the main beach area. We get to the hostel and I meet Eduardo who, in fantastic English, gives me a very comfortable room with four beds to myself for €22. Then what follows is a fantastic guided tour with Hilary where I get my first sight of the main beach strip which is not only beautiful but also has the longest row of bars and restaurants I’ve ever seen. This is what I’ve come for. We get out of the car a few times and walk about asking where other hostels are and finding them for reference should I want to change but they’re at least three times as much as what I’ve just paid so I’ll stay put. She finds out a little more about my story, including my journalism background, and I find out about hers. Moved here because she was fed up of England – I don’t pry as to why – and Javea was recommended to her. As time went on, her first impressions of the place became more and more confirmed. Seven years in now and she still loves it as much as that first year. She also tells me a few more things about herself but I have no business writing any of that here. One annoying little thing though. The battery in my phone’s all but dead so I’m not able to get a picture of us.
We chat more, get out for more little walks along the beach and finally arrive at the hostel where we part like old friends who won’t see each other for a long time. But not before I get her email address. It’s only now that the tiredness really starts to hit me but sleep cannot possibly happen until I’ve eaten and showered. Those two things happen then its time to finally lie down on something soft. I make sure to set my alarm for an hour and a half. I’ve still got the evening to come yet. Then sleep comes like a door being slammed shut.
The rescue party
With Jan (left) and Pat, the advance rescue party
Recovered and back in the shed
When the alarm goes I wake up quite quickly and feel newly energised. Without thinking, I sit up and reach out for something. I can’t remember what. The scream that happens next would have woken the whole place if it had been the middle of the night. Cramp has suddenly exploded in the centre of my calf. The kind that puts a top class athlete on the floor. It feels like it’s been punch but the punch has stayed. And squeezed hard for effect. This hasn’t happened since my rugby playing days. Luckily I’m quite flexible thanks to the yoga sessions and I’m able to straighten the leg out, reach forward, grab the toes and pull them back. All this happens in a few seconds and I’m left gasping and with another reason to be grateful I’ve got the room to myself. I lie back again, for how long I’m not entirely sure. Probably less than five minutes. But I do know that I keep the leg straight, proper scared of bending it. When I do, just a little, the cramp creeps back in and I know just one tiny extra bend and it will explode again. Eventually I feel confident enough to move it and then to stand up. Now I’m ready to start the next part of the day.
First thing, I have to see how I am financial wise. I’ve been going through it all in my head and I think I have enough money for three days here. Four? At a stretch? The big thing is to make it to Thursday when there’s a jam session attended by a lot of the working musicians in the area. Again, shop window opportunity. So I fire up the computer and get myself to my online banking. What I see almost makes the cramp come back again and I find myself turning away so I can look back and see something different. No. It still looks the same. This is not good. A few extra bills have come out and they’re bigger than I was expecting. Not by huge amounts, but sitting on a micro budget which I thought might stretch for three or four days, it takes a while for me to slowly realise what it all actually means. A check of the wallet confirms it. As well as unaccounted for money having disappeared from the bank account, the money in my wallet has evaporated as well and I can’t say where all that’s gone either. Not a clue. Maybe I’d overestimated everything in the first place. I always knew I had to make things happen quickly and the disappointment and wasted time of Benidorm definitely didn’t help that. But now I don’t just have to make things happen quickly. I need a miracle. Bottom line: If I don’t leave for Alicante tomorrow and then Madrid the day after that, I face the possibility of not being able to afford those tickets and then I’ll be left stranded.
It takes quite a lot of thinking to process what all that means so I go for a walk to clear my head and take in this new information. After all that balls of a journey to get here, the truth is that I now have just one night in Javea and will then have to head off back to Alicante. I’ll stay there maybe a night and then onto Madrid in total failure with no job to go to and next to no money in my pocket. Once arrived, I’m going to have to try to get something workwise for what’s left of July and then August, and also deal with the fact that I’ve not worked at all so far this month and so will have nothing coming in. Well, that’s the risk I took and even at this point I’m not sorry I took it. I said before I left that this could be a possibility. I just hadn’t seen the end coming so soon or so unexpectedly.
In that walk, I start to think of what to do next. Apart from what may or may not be waiting in Madrid, I already start to think beyond that. I’ve learnt a lot in these few days. Already more than any months of internetting or phoning could have told me. I’m thinking about riding out the storm, getting back on my feet, starting to save and then coming out and doing this again, this time with a much better financial cushion – I knew I didn’t have a big one to do this in the first place. Probably not nearly big enough, which is now becoming apparent. But if not now, when? Sometimes it just isn’t going to get to look any better and you have to go with what you have or not go at all.
So that’s how it’s looking. Head to the beach bar area tonight with the bass and see if I can meet the right people and get something going in the right direction. I’ve already discovered that having the bass with me can be an attraction of sorts in itself and if anyone is looking, or musically minded, I’ll stand out as a musician, if not a bassist a mile off. If nothing else, it’s a conversation starter and you never know where a conversation might lead. If you’re thinking thems are crazy thoughts, you’ll get no argument here. I’m hoping for the practically impossible and I know it. That approach is fine if you’re under no pressure and can just see what comes your way over a few weeks or months. But one night? Tonight? A Tuesday? Well it’s all I have so it’s all I can go for. At this stage I should say I had considered bar work but as far as I can see, this would just nullify the purpose for coming here in the first place. I’d searched for other jobs and just found project manager this or software developer that. As well as the usual sales jobs/scams that I fell for as a student and won’t be going near again.
I walk back to the hostel, get the computer on again hoping there’s going to be at least some encouragement. And there it is. A private message on Facebook. It’s from Christian. He tells me his band is playing the Blue Sea bar on Javea beach and that I should come along to have a look and finally meet up. This doesn’t really change anything but it is nice to have a solid plan and to know I now have some people on the scene to talk to.
When I head down there, aiming to arrive for 10pm with the show starting at 11, it really is quite strange. I’m in a beautiful setting on the coast of Spain and a beachfront unlike any other I’ve ever seen. All around are people having a great time and there’s absolutely no sign of the English loutishness so apparent everywhere in Benidorm. But not only am I not in the holiday mood, which I rightly haven’t been all this time, but I can’t even appreciate any of my surroundings. I’m just focussed on what might happen tonight and trying to keep calm about it. The lads arrive just before showtime and quickly set up. Not only is Christian there but also Enrico, the drummer from Moraira. The greetings are very warm and the least I can do is buy the two guys a drink which I do.
But they’re busy setting up so a quick few words aside I let them get on with it. I settle down and they play their show which is a perfectly good high tempo, familiar cover songs party show. Just right for the family audience they’re playing to. When they finish, Christian is quick to come up to me and say, ‘Any other night I would have called you up to play a few but this was our first night here and we didn’t want to do anything unpredictable.’ There is of course absolutely no problem with this and I tell him, truthfully, that I hadn’t been expecting anything like that anyway. Can’t say it wouldn’t have been nice though.
They continue packing up and I stay out of the way while they talk to people they know who’ve come – you don’t want to become what the Spanish refer to as a pesada, or a weight. There’s no real translation for that in English but I think you get the picture. I expect they’re going to hang around for a while and relax and we can talk. At the very least, I might be able to build more of a picture about the scene. Afterall, Christian has already told me that there is a shortage of good bass players here and maybe I’ll start to find out exactly where that shortage is. But they both he and Enrico say they have early starts in the morning so we say our enthusiastic goodbyes and off they go.
Well, that’s that. The thing is, I feel strangely serene about it in ways I don’t understand and can’t explain.
Nothing left to do now but try to find the hostel through around three miles of streets I’d never seen before yesterday. Fortunately, Hilary’s tour has sunk in more than I would have thought and I’m able to negotiate the town through landmarks she’d pointed out earlier on.
It’s 4am when I finally reach my room, work the bass off my back and get onto the bed – no sheets are necessary at all. I don’t remember any thoughts of how the night went or what tomorrow will bring. Instead, I just do a quick sum calculating when I woke up in Alicante and began this days. It was 42 hours ago. Now it really is time to sleep.
The Javea beachfront at night
Wednesday, July 16
I’d like to say I packed with a heavy heart or other such cliché but I really didn’t. Strange.
I call Per and tell him the situation and, of course he’s surprised to hear I’m coming back already. He says he’ll meet me at the bus station in Alicante. I’m still clearly feeling the effects of the previous two days because I drop off on the bus and am in Alicante before I knew it. In fact, it feels so soon that I have to check with the driver that that is indeed where we are.
All I can say about this day is that by 12:30am I realise I still haven’t touched the bass so far but don’t feel like I’d be able to do much if I do. So at 1am I decide to have a nap, get up at 2am and put in a session of throwing myself into a few songs I’ve never heard before and jamming along to them. No thoughts of chords, scales or any other theory, just playing to what I hear and keeping myself on track of practicing everyday, even though 2am is really the next day but I don’t tell myself that. After that I just hit the forum on SBL until about 4:30 while thinking of a plan for the next day.
Per on the beachfront outside his apartment
Thursday, July 17
It’s at this time that I decide I’ve been going about this the wrong way. Well, I guess if something succeeds it was always right and if it fails it was always wrong. I’m certainly not winning anything right now so something has to change. I’ve said from the start that I’m happy to do any job but also that I’ve been seeing no point in getting bar work because it’s at night when gigs tend to happen. Well now there is a point in getting bar work. It’s a job to keep me here. Because if I go back to Madrid, I’m back to zero professional music scene and waiting for some semi distant point in the future to be able to save up enough money to do this again because I’ll definitely be doing it with more next time.
For now there’s this time to worry about and the first time I start to wonder if I shouldn’t have looked for bar work in Javea but it’s too late for that. At about 2pm it’s time to do what I can do and what I have to do. I’m going to hit the bars of Alicante city. Per insists on driving me to the nearest bus stop, or at least the nearest regular bus stop. The one near his place has a bus that leaves in two and a half hours. In L’altet, the nearest village, there’s a bus every half hour or so. He drops me off there, I get the bus to the train station, pick up a tourist map of the city and head off to tourist central.
Not that I just tried the Irish bars but I should say that there’s something strange about walking into one of them in Spain. You’re not sure whether to speak Spanish or English. On more than one occasion I’ve ended up getting into full conversation with someone before the, ‘where do you come from,’ question pops up. Followed by, ‘Oh, you’re English,’ still saying that in Spanish for some bizarre reason. Or you can go in all English guns blazing, be faced with a blank look and feel ignorant for not speaking to someone in their own language in their own country when you happen to know it. That’s how I feel anyway. And that’s just when I want a pint. So going in to ask for work magnifies the whole experience. That’s what happens the first time when I ask a very Spanish looking guy in a corner bar if he’s the boss. He doesn’t understand. I try again, slower this time. ‘Chef?’ he asks. ‘No. Jefe,’ I reply. ‘Eres jefe? O esta aqui?’ – Are you the boss, or is he/she here? – esta works as for both genders. Here endeth the Spanish lesson. He looks at his friend then back at me and then, in what sounds to me like a broad cockney accent says, ‘I’m sorry mate, I don’t know what you’re saying.’ See what I mean? But at least we can talk simply now and I explain the situation to him, again, in the best English I can muster. He shakes his head and says, ‘Sorry mate. I’m not looking for anyone and I don’t know anyone else who is either.’
It’s the same story everywhere. And the thing is, I don’t see one ‘help wanted’ sign anywhere. I keep going and then another little incident illustrates my point. I go into a big Irish bar and a girl comes to greet me and I decide to just go with English. Like the first bar I’m met with a blank look. So I try the same in Spanish and this time she understands me so there’s more of a reaction, not that it does me any good. ‘I’m sorry. Everything’s quiet here right now and we have everyone we need.’ I’ll mention one more, another Spanish conversation. I’m sure you’re aware that in any kind of inquiry situation, maybe looking for a gig or maybe selling something. Actually, I guess trying to get a gig is really the same thing as selling. Sometimes people say no in a variety of ways, you say thankyou and move on. But sometimes you get the feeling that this person is going to be happy to talk, at least for a little while. That’s what happens next. Big bar, quiet bar although it is 7pm. I’ve at least timed it well. Everywhere’s open but nowhere’s busy yet. I get the usual, ‘Thanks but we have everything we need,’ but then I tell him I’ve been hearing that everywhere. He says that this year it’s been very quiet and not many extra people are being taken on. The story of Spain right now I suppose, even at the height of tourist season. By the time I’ve finished I’ve been pounding the streets for three hours and had just one bar take a CV – no phone call or email yet. As Rick, my bar owning friend in Madrid says, CVs just get chucked in the bin. ‘I don’t even take them. It’s just clutter behind the bar you don’t need. When you need extra help, you just wait for someone to come in the door. Then if you get talking to them and like them, you offer them something.’
I return to Per’s place empty handed and get ready to clutch at the strawiest of straws. The jam night at The Meeting Point which you may remember. Per is again insistent on driving me there and I think he’s going to stay and finally sing at one of these things but it turns out he’s just being helpful as usual. He turns the car round and heads back and I go in to tackle the bar alone. I really can’t say enough about how great he’s been.
I arrive, drop my bass inside and head outside while it’s all being set up. A few people immediately say hi and ask if I’ve brought my bass. That’s a good start. I tell one of them, Miguel, about the trumpet player and he has no idea there was a trumpet player (trumpetist? Didn’t think so). Maybe I imagined him. But I don’t think so. Per’s been talking about him as well. In the event, he doesn’t show up at all and I’m surprised.
As far as jam sessions go, this one turns out to be a big disappointment and it quickly becomes clear that no contact making is going to happen tonight. It turns into more of an open mic night than a jam night with acoustic guitarist/singers getting up and playing whatever they want without caring less if they can be followed or not. I get up, play Here Comes The Sun and then the guitarist announces Layla, acoustic version. He’s got lyrics on the floor in front of him but no chords to go with them. I think nothing of it. Songs I’ve either never played or heard of get called out in jam sessions all the time. I follow along fine until we get to the verse and it turns out that it has four chords to a bar for four bars. How in any world is that possible to just follow without a chord chart if you’ve never played the song? At one point I practically stop playing and, when he finishes, I can’t get off the stage quick enough. Same guitarist, different bass player. Now he decides to do American Pie. Great song but again, tons of chord changes – two to a bar in parts and four to a bar at others, or at least that’s what our guitarist friend plays. The house bass player just looks bemused and tries to follow, the whole staring intently at what the guitar player’s doing. I suppose, like me, he’s trying to second guess where the guitarist’s fingers are headed. It’s a game effort but he’s nowhere near it most of the time and a great song just ends up sounding like a discordant noise. Not that the singer/guitarist notices or cares. He’s having a great time and clearly thinks everything about the performance is spot on. To be fair, the other two guitarists up there with him are sounding perfect. That’s because they’ve stopped playing altogether and are just looking out awkwardly at the audience.
That’s just a microcosm. There’s a lot of that. And bongo players who think they’re right on the money, playing out of time with guitar players who are playing different rhythms. Oh it’s just bad. And the back slapping going on after each bad performance after bad performance just makes it even worse to watch. OK. They’ve probably been working hard all day and are just having fun and the audience seems to enjoy it so maybe I’m in the minority but even so. I stick around hoping it will get better. My new friend Miguel clearly feels the same. He was one of the guys who asked earlier on if I had my bass. At one point, with five people on stage strangling the hell out of Sweet Home Alabama, he looks at me, shakes his head and says, ‘This is the first song people learn to play.’ Is that incredulity or sadness I hear in his voice? Hard to say.
When Miguel gets up, I wait for the house bassist to finish the first song with him and then ask if I can take it from here. No problem. I play a bunch of songs as part of Miguel’s backing group. Miguel finishes and I play with a few other guys. Maybe twenty minutes in all. Then it’s time to go home, or Per’s home at least. Like last week, I follow the sea all the way down to Per’s. His estate of flats, standing clearly in the distance against the moonlight, refuse to get any closer for at least the first half hour of the walk. Again, like last week, I stay on the hard sand near the caressing, incoming sea where it’s easier to walk. But this time I have the bass on my back so I stay a little further away from the waves.
Friday, July 18
So that’s it. It’s all over. I can’t believe it. The serenity I felt in the bar in Javea has completely gone. Not even two weeks in and I’m heading back to Madrid. All that’s left is to book the ticket back home. What I’m going to do when I get there I have no idea. There are some jobs around starting at the beginning of August but when I start to apply for them, I just feel myself go cold and stop. On the SBL website, someone has asked the question, ‘What demotivates you when it comes to practice?’ I think I’ve got a good one for him.
Rick phones. He’s really been a cheerleader for this and regularly checks in for updates. Rick is my oldest friend in Madrid. He’s 97 in September. No. Not really. He runs a fantastic English bar – his third in the city – called Mad Dogs, and in previous times I was in the punk/pop band with him as I said earlier. Drunken Monkees. We once wrote and recorded an album together with the band. Then we tried to do something with it in Hamburg but that’s a whole nother story.
It was Rick who sent me a text the day I left, saying, ‘Do not come back. There is nothing here.’ Anyway, he calls now for an update and is not happy with what he hears. ‘Mark, what are you doing?’ he asks. ‘You have to do whatever you can to stay there.’ As we talk it through, the facts of the situation begin to solidify. The only thing available here is bar work. I came here to play music, not get an evening bar job that stops me from doing what I came to do in the first place. But the fact is, if I don’t do that, I can’t stay and that means I’m not here if an opportunity does come up. And also, if I don’t do that, the alternative is back to Madrid, the limited jobs there in August and then the prospect of working there for at least another year before I’m able to have another crack at this. As for a pro music scene, maybe if you read music as well as you read your own language, there may be work in the shows, or orchestras if you’re that kind of musician, but that’s it. I should explain something else here. Madrid stops in the summer. Goes to sleep, closes down, ceases to function. I’ve spent two summers there and it really is a phenomenon. I won’t go into all the rest of it, but it really will, in all likelihood, take another year to save up to be able do this again. At least.
The other thing is that a huge ‘should have’ has crept in and is really starting to take hold. Why didn’t I look for a bar job while I was in Javea. I know the answer to that, but now I’m starting to see the options for real, it’s taken on a new shape. It’s all over and all I can think of is that there is something I could have done about it. It’s all too late now because I just didn’t think of that when I had the opportunity. If I could have stayed there, by any means possible, I would have been on a professional scene surrounded by musicians. ‘Should have’ and his mate, ‘what if,’ are going to have a good old laugh for years to come with that one. I’m starting to make quiet, strange, involuntary noises.
I go for a walk. Because it’s the only thing I can think of to do. When I get back I’m going to book the ticket. I’ve already told Jenn and she’s not happy about it either. You don’t know Jenn. I’ll say this really quickly. She’s American, from Albuquerque – yes, where they made and set Breaking Bad – and my ex who I now live with. Some people find that very strange but it works and we have a great relationship. Anyway, she was really hoping to come out to wherever I was in August and possibly work rather than take her chances with the non existent opportunities in Madrid. Now the place I’m going to be is where she is now.
I sit down and stare out at the sea. As I do, something small starts to form. I could get all metaphoric here about the waves coming in and growing before breaking on the shore but I won’t. If you want, you can write your own. I have some money. It’s for my ticket back to Madrid and just a little over. But it is some. What’s to stop me going back to Javea, taking a day or two in the hostel I’ve just left and stretching what I have to give myself another chance? I’ll give you the answer. Nothing. Nothing is stopping me. This is possible. If nothing else, I have to get rid of that ‘should have’ which is already starting to enthusiastically eat at me and is only going to get fatter and happier with its new job over time.
Can I really do this? Is it really a good idea? I have to have a shower before I commit to this and book the hostel. I do some good thinking in the shower. Stephen King says he does all his best thinking in the shower so I’m in good company. I can be quite rash on an idea and can often start to follow one through before thinking about it properly. Then, by the time I realise it’s a bad idea and I really should have given it a little time to settle, it’s too late.
I shower, dry and get dressed. Then I call Paul, my proper oldest friend from Warrington, north west England. He lives in Cork in Ireland now. We’ve known each other since we were nine or something. He thinks it’s longer. I tell him how things are and ask if he could possibly take care of a ticket to Madrid should all go bums up. He happily says yes. With that the decision is made. I’m going back to Javea.
Sunrise in Javea
Saturday, July 19
I spoke to Paul McCartney’s old drummer today. No, not that one. Geoff Britton, who played in Wings and then, among other bands, was in Rough Diamond with David Byron and Clem Clemson, formerly of Uriah Heep and Humble Pie respectively.
This happens after I put in a call to Sue of Javea Organisers. I neglected to get her surname and then checked on her website – she’s named there as just Sue as well. Although it does say she was a BBC TV presenter for three years. It doesn’t say what programme though. Anyway, the first time I spoke to Sue in a call back in Madrid before all this, she was so friendly and forthcoming that we ended up chatting about tennis. Then, after I sent her an email with my details and some Youtube vids of me playing, she was kind enough to pass it around to some of her musician friends. I’ve heard nothing from any of them yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping the details on the back burner or won’t (haven’t?) pass them on to someone else.
Sue seems genuinely happy to hear from me and we have a brief chat about what I’m doing right now. I must be making some kind of impression because out of the blue she tells me about Geoff and gives me his number. This very rarely happens. If anything, an agent may offer to call someone for you and pass on your number. To put it in your hands and without checking with the person first is not something they usually do.
So I call Geoff and introduce myself and say how I got his number. The first thing he says is, ‘Madrid? That’s a strange place for a musician to be.’ But after that, not only is he very amiable, he also says he knows of a fairly busy band in the area who might just be in need of a bass player. He tells me he’ll be meeting with one of them on Monday and will mention me to them. What will happen after that depends on whether they need someone or not and whether or not they’ll want to take a punt on an area newbie. Not only that but he also mentions a friend of his, Simon, who owns a bar on the Javea beachfront called Black Beluga. He says I should call in on him when I arrive. He doesn’t know if he needs anyone or not but says it can’t hurt to ask. I thank Geoff very much for his time and help and we part telephonic ways.
Now all that’s left is to continue with the chilling out and wait until tomorrow. Per aids greatly in this by taking us both out for pizza, beers and whiskey and picking up the tab. On the way back to his, I thank him for about the millionth time and he says, ‘Mark, do you think that at some point in the future, I won’t be expecting to drink your 21 year old whisky?’ With that I tell him I knew his actions have all been selfishly motivated and we contemplate that while walking back to his place to drink 21 year old whisky.
I’ll also say here that Per has told me a few times now that he’s been in my shoes and kind of wishes he could be doing something similar. Even so, the help he and Weng have given has gone above and beyond with lifts here and there and when they’ve eaten, I’ve eaten. No-one could possibly have asked for more.
Now, my original plan once I decided to return to Javea was to go today but when I call the hostel, they say they’re all booked up. However, tomorrow, Sunday, is no problem. So I’m going Sunday and I take it as a mini respite. I can hang out in Alicante with no thoughts that there’s something else I should be doing with my time. It’s a mini break and instead of fretting about not getting to Javea sooner, I embrace it. In fact, it’s only at this point that I realise how tired I am mentally and physically. I take the rest in a quite literal way. Videos and pool. I don’t even take the advantage of it to get in the shed and feel absolutely no guilt about that at all. Well, I do do half an hour at some point. It turns out that those 24 little hours I toss away with such carefree abandon are going to make a huge difference. But I don’t know that yet.
Sunday, July 20
Isn’t hindsight just the best? I’m thinking of opening an online business and selling it. I’ll make a fortune. I’ll call it hindsight.com, although I’m sure I’ll think of a better name once it’s up and running and it’s too late to change it.
Because I’m not going back to Per’s this time, I’m taking everything to Javea. Medium sized suitcase on wheels – wouldn’t be carry-on for a plane – my bass and, shock horror, an acoustic guitar; it adds to the earning potential. As the bus winds through a small village, nearing its destination, I have a strange feeling that I know where I am. I’ve been here before. Then the realisation starts to sink in. No. Surely not. Suddenly, I know what’s around the next corner and yep. I’m right. There it is. The bus stop I’d stood at a few days before on that epic day 5/6. This is the bus stop where I saw I would have a three hour wait. The same place where a bus had left while I’d been standing just metres away in a futile attempt to hitch a lift. I discover it’s not actually called Tiny Village. I always thought I was wrong about that. Instead, it’s called Benitachell and it will return to haunt/taunt me again.
When I get to Javea, I haul the basscase on my back, take the guitar case straps on one shoulder, manage the suitcase with the opposite hand and set off for the hostel again. All in sillilly hot weather with no shade from the sun. I hesitate at a corner thinking which way to go and ask a passerby. He’s going my way so very helpfully offers to walk with me and also insists on carrying my guitar. He also, possibly more helpfully, points out how much I’m sweating. Thanks. I hadn’t noticed that at all. We chat a little and he tells me he makes stone models for the tourists and his time’s his own. Which is why he’s wandering the deserted streets this time of day. It’s approaching 3pm. Thinking, ‘you never know where things might lead, especially if you keep chucking mud at the wall,’ I casually mention to him that I’m here looking for work. ‘Oh there isn’t any,’ he just as casually replies. Again. Thanks for that. Still, his help and amiable conversation are very appreciated. We’re heading for Calle (street) Principe de Asturius. Now, this is the guy who’s just become Spain’s new king after his dad abdicated. The guy the street’s named after, not the guy carrying my guitar. My new friend says they’ll now have to change the name of the street to King Street. Interesting observation. We arrive at the hostel, I knock on the door and he heads off for his siesta. I meant to get his name. I forgot. Sorry.
A quick shower and I head off to the beach. I’ll give you this for reference now. The beach is two kilometres away. Then there’s a roughly four kilometre walk to the start of the tourist area to my right. That strip is about two to two and a half kilometres long. From the end of that, it’s between six and seven kilometres back to the far end of the port area to my left where there are some more bars and restaurants. Everything I do here is going to be on foot. In the summer Spanish sun.
Once at the beach area I make a beeline for the Black Beluga, the place which is run by Geoff Britton’s mate Simon. He’s there and I tell him about Geoff and he says that they are indeed good friends. Now, what can he do for me? I tell him I’m looking for work and ask if he has anything. ‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I took someone on at 11 this morning and that’s my last hiring for the summer.’ I’m stunned. In a whole month of days I’ve arrived five hours too late. If the hostel hadn’t been fully booked last night, I would have come here yesterday and that job probably would have been mine. Should I have called him? This is where the hindsight thing comes in and I will torture myself with this until I arrive at a conclusion of sorts. Which is this. First, Geoff didn’t say there was a job going. He just said he knew a guy with a bar. I can tell you I know a guy with a car. It doesn’t mean he’s going to sell it to you if you’re looking. Had a job been in the offing of course I would have called last night. But here’s the thing. Simon doesn’t know me and would have had no guarantee I was going to show up. So imagine I’d called and he’d said yes, he had a job. Once that other guy shows up at 11am, does Simon say no to him and risk me not showing up and then that guy getting a job somewhere else in the five hours it’s going to take me to arrive? I don’t think so.
It’s no big deal, I think. I’ve got a whole beach front of places to check out. Someone somewhere will have something. What comes next could be a montage in a film as I go from bar to bar to restaurant to restaurant from hotel to hotel. Set your own music to it. Everywhere is a variation of the same script. No thanks. We have a full staff. What we’re talking here is about two kilometres of bars on about seven kilometres of beach, not to mention hotels a little off the track. So what I’m looking at right now is that the only job there is, is one I could have had yesterday and in the first bar I walked into. The odds? I have no idea but it’s lots to one.
There is one little interlude when I go into a bar and ask for the jefe (boss) the guy says, ‘jefe solo?’ I say yes, thinking he’s asking if it’s only the boss I want to see and no-one else. Two minutes later he returns with a cup of black coffee. Oh dear. I rewind and play the script again. He laughs, takes the coffee away and goes to get the boss. After that, the script is read as written.
Until I arrive at one restaurant to be confronted by a phalanx of waiters all staring at me. It seems a bit of a waste of time to even ask but I do, they say no of course, and I walk out. But then one of them runs out and calls at me to come back. ‘There’s a restaurant at the port which needs people,’ he says. He’s not sure of the name. Bandini or Barandi or something, he says. I’m at the far end of this beach. The port is all the way up, past all the bars here, past the scattering of hotels and bars further down the way. I see the port as a speck in the distance. I can’t even make out any boats from here. But the guy says there’s work there so I’m going to ignore everything else here and head on out. As I said before, it’s about seven kilometres away and there’s no shade. The sun is high in the sky at this point. Eventually I get there and walk past place after place bearing no resemblance to the name he said. Then there it is. The very last restaurant on the strip I’ve now walked the entire length of. I walk in, find the manager, confidently make my enquiry thinking I’ll be welcomed with open arms and all I receive is, ‘No. We have nothing now. You might want to come back in August.’ And that’s it. That’s what I’ve just walked all this way for. At least, being at the far end of the port, I can now hit all the places on the way back and that’s what I do. When all those refusals have been met, I hit all the places occupying the middle ground between here and the main strip. Same result.
Rather than start with the first bars I come to when I arrive at tourist central, I decide to walk right past everything and start again where I left off. I consider going to see the waiter to ask if that was some kind of practical joke, sending me off to the farthest place he could think of but decide that would be a waste of time.
Instead, I start again as planned and continue until 8pm when the bars and therefore the bosses start to get properly busy so I call it a day.
By the time I’ve done all that and walked back to the hostel, I’ve been walking for seven hours, mostly in relentless, shadeless sun.
When Rick calls for his more or less daily update he fully gets both barrels. He calls at the perfect time. The beach is far behind me and I’m walking through the town towards the hostel. When I tell him what I’ve done that day, five hours and nothing, he’s absolutely incredulous. I know. I am too. It’s crept up on me a little slower than it has on him but now it’s beginning to sink in, especially with his reaction. I mean, despite the heat, I was wearing smart trousers and a shirt so I was clearly presentable. And I know you can’t judge fully on first impressions but I like to think they could see I at least possessed the intelligence of a cute dog and maybe a little more as a bonus. Also, I speak the language – Spanish, not dog although I understand dog grammar is quite easy to get your head round. Anyway, Rick’s called at such an opportune time that we’re still talking when I arrive at the hostel so I stay outside while we finish. Then it’s time for a cold shower, bed, and then I do my best to forget about it all for now.
Is it possible for someone to do more to get a job than I’ve done today? I don’t think so. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
One end of Javea beach to the other
Kind of appropriate I think. I found this on the side of one of the bars
Monday, July 21
If my water intake for these last few days had been taken from the sea, there’d be no more worries about rising ocean levels. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so long in such heat and at the end of today, all I can think about is a little piece I recently read about ants. I like ants. No. I love ants. Sometimes I trip over myself if I see I’m about to stand on one. If I see any in my house, I kill them on sight.
Anyway, what this article said was that scientists sent two teams of forager ants out. One team had sources of food made readily available while it was ensured the other team would always fail and would never find food. What happened? The failing team gave up and actually genetically changed. They returned to the nest and took up another role. Apologies for any wrongful reporting on the experiment but that’s my layman’s remembering of it. What place does that story have here? Basically that ants are among the strongest and most determined creatures there are. But if there’s no food to find, they won’t find any food. Full stop. It’s halfway through today when that article pops into my head. I can be as resourceful, as determined, as strong as I want. If there are no jobs, there are no jobs and that’s the end of it. And finding a job right now is my sole means of being able to stay here.
If I can stay, I’ll go to Christian’s jam session on Thursday, go and see Geoff’s band on Friday, which I now know is called Black Glitter, and then catch up with whatever’s happening on Saturday or Sunday. Whoever I meet on Thursday or Friday could well be a great influence on that, especially Thursday when, of course, I’m planning to get up and play. It’s not that I’m expecting a flood of offers from one jam session and one weekend, but I think it could be a good, solid introduction to the scene. Then it’s a case of seeing how things go during the week; who I meet or who hears about me as a result of connections made this weekend, what jam sessions I end up going to and any other number of things. In that Moraira session way back when, the drummer Enrico told me that getting to as many of them as possible was the key to cracking the professional scene in this area. Without a job, none of that happens.
My first call today is a very luke-warm lead I got yesterday. Incase you’re wondering, by very luke-warm, I mean almost cold, not almost warm. A guy in a fish and chip shop behind the main strip told me about a place called Scallops. He said they might need someone. So I went there and was told to come back this morning between 9:30 and 10:30. So I leave the hostel and make the walk down to be told the boss won’t be there until sometime after one.
That’s what it’s like, and there’s quite a bit of other waiting around to be done on this day as more people say things like, ‘we may need someone but the boss isn’t around until…’ or again they ask for a CV, which I’ve stopped giving out. One guy even tells me I’m right, that they’re a waste of time and that he won’t take them anymore. In my waiting time, I walk off the beaten track and hit some of the bigger hotels. There, I either get told that the staff is full, or to leave a CV.
At one hotel, the girl behind the desk says, ‘Oh, the boss doesn’t work here. He works at the other hotel in our group. The best thing is to phone them there.’ ‘OK, thanks,’ I say. ‘Do you have a card so that I can get hold of him there?’ She obligingly hands me one. ‘This is for this hotel,’ I say. ‘Yes,’ ‘But you just told me I had to call the other one.’ ‘Oh. Right.’ And with that she pulls out one of those big tourist map things that have businesses advertising all round them – you know the kind – and starts looking for the other hotel. I can see this is going to be a long and pointless game so thank her for her help and time and leave. That’s the last hotel I go in.
I head back to Scallops at 1pm and meet Gary, the boss. With him I have the first sit-down chat I’ve had with anyone since I’ve been here. He starts to ask about personal information, do I speak the language, do I have papers to work here and so on. I finally get the feeling I’m moving in a positive direction. After the preliminaries I tell him that back in my early post college days I worked in some intense army kitchens and that I have a semi-decent cooking ability. On the back of this he says that having me in the kitchen is of interest to him. However, he adds that that isn’t going to be his decision. He has a guy who runs his kitchen and he’s going to leave that decision to him. ‘The thing is,’ he says, ‘that guy doesn’t really like having new people around to work with but we’ll see. I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no.’ And that’s pretty much how we leave that conversation. I thank him for his time, he thanks me for mine and I hit the streets again.
At some point I walk into the very last place on the beach front I haven’t yet visited – one I was told to come back to yesterday simply because the boss wasn’t there. Same questions from me, same results from them. Now it’s time to explore the back of this section, and all the side streets which I do in the same methodical fashion I’ve done it all so far. Again, hands remain empty. I now know that I’ve hit each and every one of the businesses in the whole area and can conclude what the ants could have told me. ‘We didn’t find anything and we’re ants. If it’s not there, it’s not there.’ It really does look like the one job in the whole area was waiting in the first place I visited and I missed it by five hours. Funny. That’s the same amount of time I’ve been walking round here today and the same amount of time I did it yesterday. That’s not counting the two hour round trip from and to the hostel.
Going back from the sea, you hit the town which is really a big village. There, all you find is mom and pop affairs and specialist shops. An exercise in futility.
I go to a shop to get supplied up and get in conversation with the guy there while I’m luxuriating in front of his substantial air conditioning unit. He tells me what I really already know. I’ve simply arrived too late in the season. ‘If you’d been here in the first week of July you could have chosen your job,’ he informs me. Well, I wasn’t here at the start of the season. I was in Benidorm, Alicante and the like while all the time Javea was waiting and, apparently, wanting.
Now it’s me doing the wanting and I have one more place to check – The Champagne Bar which I went to yesterday. This the one other bar Geoff mentioned to me along with Black Beluga as a place he knows. I was told by Ceci, the very approachable and friendly branch boss, that because they’re a decent sized chain, they could need someone but the boss, Edgar, wasn’t there. She wasn’t sure but said it was worth me coming back. When I do, I’m told he’s not in today either. All I can do now is head back tomorrow. If it remains a dead end, it’s all over. So the last bar I’ve got left on the radar is one of the first two I visited.
There’s no rush to be anywhere at all now so I slowly set off on the long walk back to the hostel, all the way being careful not to step on any ants.
Tuesday, July 22
I hold no stock by the number 13. After today I may have to rethink that. Before you read this, you might want to go and get a cup of tea. In fact, get a couple.
The day starts with the same slight hope that yesterday ended with. Back to The Champagne Bar. In a strange symmetry, Geoff’s band Black Glitter is playing there on Friday. It’s a classy place but then, so are most of the bars round here. The whole area of Javea, I’ve decided, is classy. From the peaceful, pretty village to the beautiful, large, clean beach and the families and groups of friends who call this their home for a week or so.
I decide to take a slightly different route to the beach today thinking there must be a shorter, more direct way to get there. There does seem to be but there are more twists and turns as I go through various housing areas. At one point, I have to ask for directions, to confirm I’m on the right track more than anything. I stop someone and ask. ‘Lo siento (sorry),’ he says, very pronounced. His other words come out slow, hesitated and broken, ending with, ‘No hablo espanyol, (I don’t speak Spanish)’ Then he walks off. Hang on. Was that a Scottish accent I heard under all that. I call him back. ‘Hey mate, I’m English.’ ‘Oh, well that makes things a lot easier,’ he says laughing. I check my directions again and this time he tells me what I thought I knew about where to go. Didn’t hurt to be sure. As we part ways, I hear him still chuckling to himself.
I walk into Champagne a little after 12 like Ceci told me. She comes to greet me like a regular customer. Just on intuition, I like Ceci. I think it would be cool to work for her. I may be very wide of the mark there but that’s just the feeling I have. She comes out and says, ‘Sorry. Edgar’s not here today either. He was supposed to be but he isn’t. Can you come back tomorrow?’ I tell her that won’t be possible. I have a bus to catch today to Madrid because, without this, I can’t stay. Her profuse apologies on hearing this sound genuine and she wishes me all the best. With that, I walk out, back down the beach and off to the hostel. All the way back a mantra pops into my head. ‘It’s not over till you’re on the bus. It’s not over till you’re on the bus.’ But my phone’s being ominously quiet. I haven’t even heard anything from the band Geoff mentioned to me. Of course I haven’t. If I had I would have told you.
As I’ve mentioned, I have a little insurance policy here in the shape of Paul’s kind agreement to help should I need it. However, Jenn has already taken pity on me and put a little money in my account which I’ll have to pay back as soon as I get a job. Because of this I decide to just go to the bus station and pay cash for a ticket on the bus. I pack everything up, say goodbye to the very friendly hostel staff, led by Eduardo and am on my way. I’m going to mention them here. hosteljavea.es If you ever find yourself in Javea on a budget, go there.
I know very well how to get to the bus station by now and it’s actually a very pleasant walk even with all my gear for the simple reason that it’s mostly downhill. All I have to do with the suitcase is keep it on course and make sure I don’t lose control. Down it rolls. All the way down. No problem.
Twenty minutes to wait and the once a day bus comes. People start loading their stuff and then it’s my turn. The suitcase slots quite nicely into the gap left. That’s it. One foot on the bus. ‘Put the guitars on top of the suitcases there,’ says the driver. ‘Can’t you open the other hold and I can lie them flat on the floor?’ ‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘We’re full.’ You’re what now? Yep. You read right and I heard right. A ton of people getting on at Benidorm apparently. I know it’s completely pointless but I hear myself saying, ‘I can’t buy a ticket from you?’ ‘No. We’re full. Take your suitcase out.’ So that’s that. I watch as the bus pulls off and have no choice but to head back to the hostel and pay for another night. If they have a room that is. What was I saying about how easy it was to get here and why? That’s right. Downhill all the way so you know what that means.
I arrive back at the hostel a sweaty mess, knock on the door and almost urgently ask one of the girls if they have a room for the night. ‘The bus was full,’ I explain. ‘Well, you’re supposed to book,’ she says. ‘We could have been full.’ Could have been. That’s a good sign. I could tell her again what’s just happened and ask exactly how I was supposed to have booked already but decide against it. Eduardo has a little smile, welcomes me back and says I’m in the same room. The urgent thing now is to get hold of Paul because I have to book on the internet now and ‘all’ ‘my’ ‘money’ has been taken out of the bank. We have a good little skype chat, mainly about possible options I have once the fallout from all this is over and I’ve got back on my feet again, and then he emails me his card details. All I want to do now is get that done and relax until tomorrow. I may even hit the shed and practice for the first decent amount of time in quite a while. All I know is that I’m supposed to be travelling home for the next eight hours give or take. So I have no obligations at all. Or so I think.
This is when it begins.
For some reason, the ALSA website absolutely refuses to accept my traveller identity details. It won’t accept my passport number, and neither will it recognise my NIE – Spanish ID card number, even though I mark the box that says card holder and passenger are not the same person. There’s a chat function to contact the helpdesk and they are no help at all. All they tell me is to do what I’ve already done. When I ask them to wait while I try something a little different just in case, they don’t and the conversation is logged as ‘over.’ Thanks Customergoscrewyourselfdesk.
There’s nothing left to do but walk back to the bus stop and see if I can buy a ticket there. When I arrive I’m told that they don’t sell tickets but I can buy them at Denia, a town 10 miles away. There’ll be a bus here in 40 minutes – 7pm. Then, half an hour there and the last bus leaves there at 8:05. ‘You’ll be in and out of the ticket office in no time,’ the guy helpfully reassures me.
Another €2 for the bus so another €2 back that’ll be. OK. We get to Denia, I find the very loud and unsettlingly bustling ticket office, wait in an increasingly frustrated line and buy my ticket to Madrid. Fine. Now just to go back to the bus stop and wait.
Except that there is no bus stop. The bus ‘station’ is only what I can describe as a glorified car park with no signs of any kind anywhere. I remember travelling National Express when I was a kid and always feeling like things were ever so slightly chaotic. So there was always that mild panicky feeling as departure time got nearer that I still wasn’t quite sure where it should be leaving from and that I was going to miss it. I ask a few people where I get the bus to Javea from and no-one knows. Instead, they direct me back to the ticket office.
It’s about 7:45 now and there’s quite a big queue. I really don’t have time for this so I politely head to the front, asking the people there if they don’t mind if I just ask a question. I do and the reply comes: ‘Just stand at the front door here and you’ll see it.’ That seems a little haphazard to me but OK. ‘And you have to buy a ticket here,’ he adds. No. Surely not. It’s a commuter bus. Since when do you have to go to offices to buy tickets for them? But he’s insistent so I go to the back of the queue and wait as patiently as I can. I get to the head of the queue at about 7:55 and buy my ticket to Javea. It costs €1:85 not €2. Hmm. When I walk back out into the carpark – I’m sorry but that’s what it is – I see that the ticket says Benitachell. No. No. No. I’m not getting stuck there again. I have to go back to the office and again be very unEnglish and jump the queue. Where I find someone is trying to book a round the world trip one town at a time, or so it seems. The clock also seems to have sped up now. The minute hand’s clicked past eight O’Clock and the second hand isn’t showing any signs of stopping. There are less than five minutes to go and I still don’t know where the bus leaves from, have a ticket to the wrong place, the man behind the desk doesn’t appear to know I’m there and the guy at the head of the queue has at least another 10 questions. I get very rude now and just butt in. Loudly. ‘I’m really sorry but my bus is about to leave and you’ve sold me a ticket to Benitachell. It’s Javea I need. Javea.’ ‘Yes, yes. That ticket takes you to Javea,’ he insists offhandedly. I have to believe him.
I all but run out leaving chaos behind me for chaos in front. Buses and people strewn all over the place as though a five year old had put them there and then kicked them about a bit. Amidst the confusion I see it. The Javea bus and it’s empty. Great. I go and stand next to the door while the driver sorts himself out. He looks right at me. Makes eye contact in fact, starts his engine and inches away. ‘OK,’ I think. ‘He’s going to saunter down to the pick-up point and I’ll get on there.’ So I follow through the aromatic exhaust fumes. He doesn’t head to any pick-up point and is now at the exit to the carpark. This doesn’t look good. Then, without stopping, the accelerator roars and he’s off. The last bus to Javea.
It’s finally arrived. That please, please keep it together moment. I kind of wander round in large circles, completely clueless as to what to do next. A little hair may come out. I try not to make any noises. I try not to show anything I’m feeling right now. I’m in a very public place. But I think I’m at that stage similar to where you’re drunk but think you’re acting sober so only exacerbate the outward drunkenness by trying not to seem so. I have no idea. Are people watching? Probably not but maybe some are. The thing is, you could put a bunny suit on me now and I just wouldn’t care. My eyes must be wild. Maybe even a little feral. Where is that Benidorm guy who hit me with the rose now? Please come and try it again. Oh please, please do. I double, triple, quadruple and all the other ruples dare ya.
I somehow find myself back at the ticket office where I tell the guy he was far too casual in telling me where the bus left from. I think I’m being mildly calm but some small measure of frustration must be coming out. I’m being sarcastic in case you hadn’t noticed. But the truth of the matter is, there’s nothing he can do and he says as much.
What options now? Walk? Ten miles? Don’t think so. Hitch? Been there, done that. Stay the night? With what money? Stay and sleep out? No thanks. Reluctantly, as the mist ascends, the obvious dawns. I have to get a taxi. I find one, open the door and ask how much to Javea. ‘€15 give or take,’ the guy says. My wallet lets out a little squawk and begs me not to do it. I try to explain to it, as gently as I can, that there is absolutely no alternative. As we start the drive to Javea, my elbow is nestling in the open window space. It’s quite comfortable and I feel a strange calm now that the madness is over. Then the driver decides to push his button and roll the window up. With me partly in it. Lots of loud English swears suddenly and quite horrifically happen and the driver almost loses control of the car in his eagerness to put the window back down again. I quickly apologise, telling him it’s been a bad day and we chat a little after that. When I get out, I give him a little tip – don’t wind your windows up on people.
I decide I’m not going to go back to the hostel. I really can’t afford what I’m about to do but after what’s just happened, I couldn’t care less. I find the nearest beer shop, buy a bunch of beers and go sit in a park. I stay there until I completely lose all track of time. It’s the first time in four or five months I’ve gone a whole day without touching the bass.
Wednesday, July 23
The day starts with one focus. Get to The Champagne Bar, meet Edgar and see if they do indeed have a job either there or in one of the other places they run. I’m not actually that hopeful because it occurs to me that had the other places needed someone, I would have been referred to this bar to talk to him. But I’ve already decided to push that thought out of my mind and just get on with it. Ceci has been very positive in each visit and did ask me if I could come back today after all. Everyone else has just closed the door whether my face has been in it or not.
I’ve got my times all worked out. It could get tight but it’s all doable. I was told Edgar would be around a little after 12 so I leave the hostel at 11. If I leave the beach front at 1:30 I can be back at the hostel by more or less 2:30. That will leave me time to shower, pack and then get to the bus station by 3:20, or actually a little earlier. It won’t do to be rushing to get there at the last minute for the one bus of the day. Or I could get offered some kind of work and there’ll be a decision to make, or not as the case may be. Any measure of work will offer some vague hope of getting the foothold I need. So it all comes down to an hour and a half in which something finally has to happen. When I arrive at Champagne to be told Edgar’s not there and Ceci isn’t either and won’t be until a little after one, that time gets cut down to half an hour.
When I arrive again, Ceci is surprised to see me but is her usual friendly self. At first I tell her I decided to roll the dice one more time but then quickly say what actually happened; that the bus was full and I had to book another ticket for today so thought I really should try here again. The first thing she says is that Edgar isn’t around. Great. Three days in a row. He’s apparently always around. Not when I want to see him he isn’t. Then she says, ‘I think he might be in an interview.’ Oh no. That would be too cruel. Tell me that’s not true. Just missing out again. And in the second of the first two bars I visited. After everything else. Is he in an interview or isn’t he? This I am not going to find out. Instead, Ceci phones the head office. He’s not there either so she tells me that he may be in another bar at the far end of the beach. It’s twenty past one at this point. Ten minutes to when I need to be out of here and I’m being told to go to the far end of the beach. What then? Sit in an interview for a job that may or may not exist like at Scallops? And then what if that leaves me too late to rush to make the bus? In the end I don’t hesitate and just go for it. It’s hot hot hot but I can’t take it easy. I take off for the far end of the beach at a fast walk ignoring the sweat that quickly, almost instantly, starts to flow everywhere. My whole body’s leaking. I think the contrast between me and everyone else on the beach has never been more stark than it is now. I arrive and ask about Edgar to be told he’s not there. He’ll be back in an hour or two the girl says so very breezily. I can try then, she offers. To her it’s a routine question and response. No big deal. She smiles, racks up the next order and to her, that’s it. To me it’s the end of it all. Nothing to do but turn round, walk all the way back, past just about every bar I’ve hopefully walked into in the past few days and then onto the bus.
And that’s it. Nothing else of note happens. I arrive in Madrid about 11pm with a non-existent bank account, no job and an August that offers very little prospect of one. Beware. That’s what can happen when you take a big risk and back yourself. At the next opportunity I’m going to do it all again.
I really wasn’t going to continue the diary after this point until I thought something worthwhile was happening or until I set off on another adventure. But everyday there seemed to be just enough happening to make a note or two on. And a few days there were multiple notes being made. Then, as August drifted in, I thought I’d better start writing it properly before it got away from me and became too big a job.